Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day Seven


Day Seven (9/20/18): John Wayne Drank Here

We got an early start to our day. We packed up and were on the road to Galway by 9 a.m. Once we got into the city, we stopped for breakfast at a little Irish place called…McDonald’s. Yes, that McDonald’s (they have ‘em in Ireland too). The big difference I discovered between their restaurants and ours was that instead of going up to the counter and ordering, customers had the ability to place their order at a kiosk, which I thought was a pretty slick system.

But I digress…

With coffee in hand, we braved the damp weather and explored the streets of Galway. As has always been my custom, I paid a visit to the local bookstore, and couldn’t leave it empty-handed. In my defense, I only purchased two books, which shows a great deal of restraint on my part! Overall, I found Galway to be very similar to Limerick with its combination of traditional architecture and modern merchandising. Live musicians played on the brick-paved streets in the midst of the bustling morning crowds.

The Turkish Barber in Dublin. Photo taken from http://www.theturkishbarbers.com

Before heading out of town towards our next adventure, Tim stopped for gas…and a haircut. For the past week, Tim had been deliberating on whether to pay a visit to a barber. I suppose that was why I found myself noting an overwhelming number of shops in operation throughout Ireland, particularly Turkish barbers. I didn’t know with any certainty a difference between an everyday, run-of-the-mill Irish barber and one of the Turkish variety. Perhaps the Turks have cornered the market in barbering, and that their hair-cutting methods are superior in quality (these are the things that keep me up at night). Tim opted for a barber that was next to the gas station (very handy, I must say). It was not labeled as a Turkish barber shop, but Tim received a good haircut just the same.

Our next stop was the beautiful little village of Cong, the backdrop for much of the John Wayne film (pronounced “fillem” by our tour guide) The Quiet Man. It had been a while since I’ve seen the movie…I’m sorry, fillem…but it was one of my Dad’s favorites. My parents used to have good-natured arguments over The Quiet Man during every St. Patrick’s Day holiday. It used to drive my Mom crazy that John Wayne’s character would never explain to Maureen O’Hara’s character his reluctance to fight. But then, if he had, there wouldn’t have been anything to make a movie on, so…

We saw various houses and buildings that were included in the…fillem, including Pat Cohan’s Bar, which was where Tim and I had our lunch. Our guide also pointed out an old stone road sign in the center of town that had been there for generations. It was marked with an old Irish inscription. The guide interpreted it as “John Wayne drank here.”

I have my doubts.

We also took time to examine the ruins of Cong Abbey, destroyed hundreds of years ago by people who were not forward-thinking architectural preservationists. Despite its dilapidated state, it was quite a beautiful place to visit.We concluded our day’s journey by trying to find our host home in Letterkenny and getting lost in the process. Fortunately, the host was nice enough to come find us at a local gas station, and we followed him back to his home. Our rented space was pretty much a two-bedroom apartment, with all the amenities, including a washer and dryer which was dearly needed at this point in our trip.

Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day Six


Day Six (9/19/18): “Ruin”ing a Vacation

King John’s Castle, Limerick

We made our departure from the Dunaway farm around lunchtime, and headed northwest until we reached Limerick where we had lunch.  Despite being surrounded by ancient buildings, Limerick proved to be a very trendy, hipster-friendly city. At times, I felt a little out of place there, having no tattoos, piercings, strange hair, or a lumberjack

 Observe the female and male of the species…

beard. It was sort of like being home. After lunch, Tim and I walked around town, observing the natives and their habitat.

We next paid a visit to the Cliffs of Moher, along the Wild Atlantic Way of western Ireland. The scenery there was, both literally and figuratively, breath-taking! The last remnants of Helene were blowing through, producing strong winds from the ocean. Still, the climb to the edge of the cliff and the lookout tower there was not as daunting as that of Sheep’s Head, where you had to work hard for your scenic outlook. Though much of the day was overcast, the sun at last broke through the clouds, enhancing the already colorful panorama before us. It made you want to stay there, staring out at the ocean for hours on end, listening to the surf crashing on the rocks below.

Reluctantly, we had to pull ourselves away and continue our drive toward our next host house, located in Tuam, situated outside of Galway. As the sun was setting, we paid an unplanned visit to the ruins of Kilmacduagh Abbey, a 12th century monastery that had fallen victim to attack (possibly by the Vikings?) hundreds of years before. The coming dusk, the full moon shining down, and the lonely, wind-swept landscape provided the perfect backdrop as Tim and I peeked around the shattered buildings and toured the cemetery. The history nerd in me absolutely reveled in it all!

When it had gotten too dark for photos, we concluded our journey to Tuam, and not a moment too soon as the rains began to fall just as we finished bringing our bags into the house. Our host Geraldine showed us to our private room with its own full bathroom. The only fault that I could find with the accommodations was that the ceilings were low and sloped, giving me numerous opportunities to inadvertently crack my head while moving about the room. Ironically, Tim, who was several inches taller than I was, didn’t share this problem.

Stan Laurel gets me.

Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day Five


Day Five (9/18/18): Irish Roads are Mad!

After a late start and a long breakfast with Dorothy, Tim and I set out to explore County Cork. Our first stop was at the bayside town of Bantry. The weather was beautiful as we strolled around the bay and the city centre. Blue skies and pleasant temperatures graced our every footfall. Despite that, we ducked into the public library to have a look around…merely to satisfy my professional curiosity, of course, and also to bring the vast knowledge of American libraries to Ireland. However, to my utter amazement, I discovered that they already had books there. And computers. And the Dewey Decimal System. Also, a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid in Irish.

After a late lunch in town, we proceeded southward to the rocky outcrop of the Sheep’s Head peninsula. To reach the lighthouse at the end of said peninsula, we had to make a steep hike on a rocky path in a stiff wind, and I only managed to fall down once. The western view of the Atlantic was amazing once we arrived and caught our breath. We took a thousand and one pictures and tried not to get blown out to sea.

We stopped for a classic Irish dinner of pizza in nearby Skibbereen before heading back to the farm.

A word now about the rural roads of southern Ireland. They are absolutely crazy to drive on! At this point, I’m speaking mainly as a passenger and not as a driver. I have yet to summon the courage to take the wheel, which is fine with Tim as he seems to enjoy the challenge of driving on the left side of the road. Still, I would have to give it a try eventually. I couldn’t leave Europe without at least trying. I was there to have new life experiences, no matter how life-threatening they may possibly be.

Getting back to the roads; they are winding and narrow with barely enough room for one car to pass another. Hedges and stone walls hem in cars on both sides of the road, giving drivers little margin for error, particularly when there is oncoming traffic. Add the dark and the rain, and you had quite the adventure! Tim, the daredevil took it all in stride.

Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day Four


Day Four (9/17/18): You Can Take the Yank Out of America…

So…we don’t tip?

I got to put my American naivety on display in the morning, following a good Irish breakfast at the hotel café. I realized that I hadn’t put a tip in our hotel room for housekeeping. I pulled out 20 and headed back up the stairs where housekeeping had finished up with our room. I went up to the maid to offer her the money, but she stared at it uncomprehendingly. Equally bemused, I explained that tipping maids was a typical American custom. She shrugged off the money with a small smile. “It’s my job,” she replied in a heavy eastern European accent.

Lesson learned.

Much of our day was devoted to exploring Dublin’s city center. We hopped on the red-line tram into the city, hoping that we would see our new friend there. No such luck.

Upon arrival, we made our way to the Trinity University campus where we paid a visit (and €7 each) to its celebrated library. The first floor of the library contained a gift shop, along with an extensive exhibit about the Book of Kells, a ninth-century “pocket” Bible. Sadly, we could not see the actual book due to some issues with the display. The second floor was the Long Room, a beautiful, vault-ceilinged, bust-bedecked expanse, decorated in dark wood. Floor to ceiling shelves filled with old texts lined the room on either side. While there, we had an opportunity to meet two American couples, one from New York, the other from Minnesota who immediately recognized the Cubs hat that I wore like a beacon of Midwest Americana. As for the native Irelanders, I don’t think they had much trouble either in pegging us for Americans. Upon leaving a restaurant after lunch, I nearly bumped into a gentleman. He apologized, and I must have said something like “Yep” or “Yup” because his face lit up and said “You’re a Yank!”

All it took was one word.

Traveling back on the tram later that day, Tim and I struck up a pleasant conversation with an Irishman. We compared notes on various aspects of our respective countries; politics, holidays, food—the important stuff. I think that one of the most enjoyable things on this trip has been the chance to talk with all sort of people.

I think that my Irish accent has been improving since my arrival in Dublin, although I use it mainly in jest. Tim and I have picked up on some of the lingo, though I’ve been a little too self-conscious to put it to use (“Hey look, that dumb Yank is trying to sound like one of us. How…precious.”). One of the terms that we heard around Dublin a lot is “Cheers!” (for thanks). I wonder if when I return home, I’ll have a whole new vocabulary. Stayed tuned, mates.

Overall, our visit to Dublin has been a great experience. The people we encountered were very lively, diverse in culture, and possessed an open-faced friendliness that you don’t often see in big cities.

That evening, we said “cheers” to Dublin, and headed southeast to County Cork. Our host house was located on a farm near Dunmanway. It was quite a drive. The remnants of Tropical Storm Helene rained down upon us as we navigated narrow, windy, darkened rural roads. In the end, we found our home without too much trouble. Our host Dorothy, greeted us at the door and showed us into her home, a beautiful place constructed by two of her sons. Once we unloaded our luggage, we entered into her living room/kitchen where we were greeted by her little dog Riyah and Chris Tomlin music playing from the stereo. Tim and I immediately knew that we were staying with a fellow believer. Over homemade scones, she told us her story about how she came to know Christ, the struggles she had to endure, and her passion for missions. Her story was both heart-breaking and inspiring.

God had clearly made His presence known in County Cork.

Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day Three


Day Three (9/16/18): Welcome to Dooblin

With the weather being what it was in Iceland, we were more than happy to get up at 4 am to catch our flight to Dublin. We flew with WOW Air again, and although it was just as uncomfortable as the first trip, we only had to endure it for two hours.

We’re under there somewhere…

The weather in Dublin (or “Dooblin” as it was pronounced by locals)was vastly improved from the cold and rain we had left at Keflavik. However, we weren’t sure how long the nice weather would last, as Ireland was in the path of Tropical Storm Helene. Another challenge presented itself when we picked up our rental car. From here on out, we would have to drive on the left side of the road. Tim eagerly took up the duties as driver, and made it all look easy. I was more hesitant to try, especially in a city. I knew at some point I would have to get behind the wheel…but not just yet.

I managed to enjoy this!

Instead of a host home, we opted for a stay at the Plaza Hotel, located just outside the city center. After a leisurely lunch, we returned to our room where I was mercifully able to take a shower and change into clean clothes for the first time in several days. Getting back to lunch, our lengthy repast at the hotel was the first time I truly noticed how long meals are expected to last. It was a novel experience for me, considering meal breaks at work last only a half an hour. As a result, I typically tend to inhale my food without the bother of actually enjoying it.

In beginning our exploration of Dublin, we stopped off at a local mall to purchase some needed supplies, like another plug adapter. As it turned out, I purchased outlet adapters that work just about anywhere in Europe…except for Ireland. So, I needed to get an adapter for my adapter. It was all rather strange. And speaking of strange…we shopped at a drug store where the self-checkout prompter was voiced by…Elvis; or rather, a very poor impression of Elvis. To be honest, it left me all shook up (insert eye-roll here).

For the nature portion of our visit, we went to the Kilmashogue Forest Recreation Area just outside city where we had a beautiful sunset view of the rolling hills. 

Dublin at night

In the evening, we wanted to sample the Dublin nightlife. We hopped aboard the Luas red line tram and shuttled into the city center. My first impression of downtown Dublin was that it was really quiet, especially for a major city. Even though it was off-season, I thought there’d be more activity. Actually, what we found was that because it was Sunday, a lot of places shut down early, or didn’t open at all. We managed to find a place with a sort of walk up drive-thru where we ordered New York style pizza slices.

Actually, I went with the Guinness. Tim went with an ale.

After that, we had a drink at the Brazen Head Pub. Established in 1198, it claimed to be the oldest pub in Ireland. It was a vibrant place with live music and several small tap rooms where one could get a pint. I settled for a Guinness. It seemed the right thing to drink.

Afterwards, we wandered the streets for a while before getting on the tram back to our hotel. While there, we had a rather interesting encounter with an elderly Irish gentleman, who either drunk or senile. He would sit quietly for a little while, then start loudly blurting out statements to the passengers around him. Tim and I sat a couple of seats cattycorner from him, trying to understand what he was saying. Between his Irish brogue and his slurring, it was hard to make out. Eventually, all the passengers around us departed, leaving us in the line of fire. He brightened up considerably when he found out we were Americans. It was still hard to understand everything he was saying, but he clearly didn’t like our politicians, frequently calling them “clowns” (pronounced cloons). Well, we couldn’t exactly disagree with that, so we nodded and smiled. This kept up until a tram security guard came up to the old man and told him that if he didn’t quiet down and stop harassing us, he’d toss the man from the tram. 

“I’m just talking to the Americans,” he slurred in defense. He really wasn’t bothering us and we didn’t mind having him rail against the “clowns.” We even might have made his night, as no one else was talking to him.

Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day Two


Day Two (9/15/18): Iceland, or, Never Bring an Umbrella to a Wind Fight

It was 11 am local time when we landed in Keflavik, Iceland. We disembarked into overcast, 40-degree (Fahrenheit) weather, although I didn’t notice it initially because I was overjoyed by the return of blood flow to my legs. Once inside the terminal, I was struck by just how quiet and orderly the Keflavik airport was. No shouting, no running around, everyone obediently lining up. I had a similar experience while I was with a group of Americans at the airport in Amsterdam. You always knew where the Americans were in the airport—they’d be the ones making the loudest noise! However, Tim and I wanted to show good decorum and to be good representatives of our country. So, we quietly and orderly shoved people out of our way, sometimes remembering to hiss “Excuse me” in English, because, hey, everyone knows English, right? I just can’t imagine why the world hates us…

I quickly learned the monetary difference between the U.S. dollar and the Icelandic krona when I paid my first visit to an ATM. When prompted, I hit what I though was the button for 20 kronas. It wasn’t 20 kronas…it was 20,000! I stared aghast at the wad of bills I received from the machine! I was afraid that I had changed over every last cent I possessed into foreign currency. However, after some quick Googling, we discovered that this amount was the equivalent of about $182.

Our next task was to pick up our rental car. With the rental stores located some distance from the terminal, we had to wait in line for a shuttle bus. Normally, this wouldn’t have been so bad, except that all the customers were forced to wait outside with very little structural protection from the stiff wind blowing off of the ocean.

All right, so maybe it wasn’t THAT cold…

The line was also very long… aaaand there was only one bus running. We grimly watched as the shuttle pulled up, filled with people, and drove away with the remainder of us hopping in place, trying to keep warm. On the shuttle bus’s second go-round, we were finally able to wedge ourselves and our carry-on luggage into the vehicle. An hour later, we had gotten our car and were soon cruising the streets of Keflavik. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that they drove on the right side of the road in Iceland. I only had to adjust to the large numbers of roundabouts within town.

It was about lunchtime, and Tim and I were eager to sample the Icelandic cuisine. So, we stopped off at the Olsen Olsen Restaurant where I got…a chili cheese dog with bacon and a side of onion rings. All right, so I’m not one to plunge head-first into a new culture. There is some easing to be done. Overall, it was a very good lunch. It should have been considering I shelled out 3,000 kronas for it!

After our meal, we made a visit to nearby Stekkjarkot, a restored 19th century house. We didn’t stay long because a steady rain had begun to fall. Having recently bought a travel umbrella, I thought this would be the opportune time to use it. Then a huge gust of wind from the sea nearly had me doing a Mary Poppins impression over the city. Accepting defeat, I put away the umbrella and got rained on.

South of Keflavik lay the tiny community of Harfir where our first Airbnb host house was located. We were immediately greeted by Anna, who quickly set us up in one of her spare rooms. We had a nice conversation and Anna gave us some sight-seeing recommendations. She was also very amused at my umbrella fiasco. “We don’t use umbrellas here,” she laughed. Lesson learned.

Tim was eager to start exploring but I talked him into taking a nap first. Despite not having my CPAP, I had a very refreshing sleep. Several hours later and feeling more rejuvenated, we continued traveling south until we arrived at the Bridge Across the Continents. As it turned out, Iceland was formed between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates. The country was literally being ripped in two. So, we visited the rip and the wooden bridge that crossed it. Again, we had to make our stay short because the weather had gotten even worse since our arrival to Iceland. The land around the growing chasm (and as far as the eye could see) was black with volcanic rock. One could imagine being on the surface of the moon. The scenery was magnificent desolation. The cold, hard-driving rain beating upon Tim and me was adding to our own desolation, so we decided to continue our journey around the southern coastline. We stopped for dinner in Grindavik at a cozy place called the Bryggjan Café. While the rain continued to fall, Tim and I enjoyed several bowls of lobster soup along with warm brown bread and butter. It was a meal that hit the spot considering the weather!

Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day One


Friday, September 14, 2018: Marching Bands, Flying Guinea Pigs, and WOW Moments

There’s nothing like having a parade to send you off on your journey in style. Okay, so maybe the parade wasn’t exactly on my account. Truthfully, it was the local high school’s homecoming parade. However, they were marching right by my house…so I claimed them as the official prelude to my upcoming vacation.

For much of this year, my brother Tim and I had discussed the possibility of a trip to Ireland in order to, among other things, get back to our ancestral roots. The only potential roadblock to our proposed trip was the timing. While Tim was hard at work for a St. Louis contractor, I spent my summer finishing up my grad school program at Dominican University and preparing for the craziness that is the library summer reading program. (Incidentally, if you believe that public libraries are becoming obsolete, please pay a visit to your local library during the summer months, especially in the children’s department! But I digress…)

By mid-August, I had graduated from school, the SRP had come to an end, and the vacation planning began in earnest. Naively believing that a month was more than enough time to plan a two-week trip, it all came down to the final few hours before departure before everything was settled. The packing was simple enough, the plane tickets were ordered, and the Airbnb housing was set. However, a number of things to take care of before I could flee the country. Tim and I weren’t due to fly out until 11:40 pm, so I had much of the day to chop away at my to-do list. I got up bright and early to run errands in the morning. At lunchtime, my dad came by to pick up my two guinea pigs, Click and Scarlet. It was a nice afternoon, so before we packed away my little furballs for their separate trip, my dad and I decided to stroll downtown Geneva and have lunch at the Geneva Diner.

As we were walking back to my apartment, we noted the large number of high school students roaming around town. It was only around 1 pm, and we couldn’t figure out why the kids would be out of school so early. It was when we saw people setting up chairs and sitting along both sides of State Street (the main drag in Geneva) that the penny finally dropped. It was the start of homecoming weekend. By the time I had my own homecoming (of sorts), the marching band was in position in front of my apartment along with representatives of other clubs and activities. I wanted to thank them for such a thoughtful send-off to me, but that’s when the guinea pig drama began.

I live on the top floor of an old house that can only be accessed via a steep, narrow flight of stairs. It was not ideal for hauling down a full guinea pig cage as we soon learned. At the very top of the stairs, just as we began to tip forward, the bottom fell out of the cage. As the stairs got a thorough coating of cedar wood chips, Scarlet went flying down to the bottom. We thought that she would be severely hurt by the tumble, but she turned out to be fine, I think mainly because she has the resiliency of furry Jell-O (try picking up a guinea pig against their will and you’ll understand). Click managed to stay in the cage bottom, but seeing her opportunity in the midst of the confusion, she hopped out and made a break for the inside of my apartment. We eventually managed to round up the girls and safely stored them in my dad’s car as the parade marched on.

My next big project of the day (and completely unrelated to the vacation) was to film myself doing a monologue. Unfortunately, auditions for my theater group’s next play were going to be held while I was away. My only option was to email a recording of my audition for the director. I thought this would be an easy matter. I propped up my phone to record and even placed cue cards to ensure that I could make it through the monologue without messing up too badly. That didn’t work out very well, as I took take, after take, after take. Despite my best efforts, the final product was nothing spectacular, but I was running out of time, so I sent it off to the director and hoped that she would rely more on my past performances than my present efforts.

And I digress again.

Meanwhile, in another part of the Midwest, Tim was having trouble getting out of St. Louis because of his workload, then his fight with the traffic all the way up central Illinois and into the Chicago suburbs. It was after 8 pm when he finally arrived in Geneva. Our Uber driver arrived almost at the same time. The driver’s name was Laurie, and she provided us with a stream of pleasant conversation all the way to O’Hare.

We arrived at the airport and checked in with plenty of time to spare; actually, more than anticipated because our flight was delayed. However, this was not our first setback of the trip. The first came at luggage check-in when we discovered that while we would be having an extended layover in Iceland, our checked-in luggage would not. This meant several days without clean clothes, toiletries, medicine, and worst of all (for me), my CPAP machine. We were going to be roughing it.

I saw a familiar face at the drop-off point. My coworker Amy and her husband were sending their daughter off to Iceland on the same flight Tim and I were on. We said our hellos and goodbyes, then got in line for the security check. I was somewhat worried about this. At the time that I had taken my passport photo, I was curly-haired, heavily bearded, without glasses, or a smile. I pretty much looked like a terrorist. My worries turned out to be unfounded as I passed through security without a hitch.

We were scheduled to fly on WOW Air, an Iceland-based airline. I was told a number of times by friends that flying WOW economy would not be a comfortable trip. It wasn’t too long into the flight when I came to full agreement with them. My back and legs hurt almost from the start, making it hard to rest, or to move for that matter. Five hours later, and I was ready to get out to stretch my legs, regardless of whether the plane was still in the air or not!